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I’m not sure exactly how much time passes before my sobs reduce to a series of sniffles and tearful hiccups, but Professor McGonagall doesn’t leave my side once.  By this time Pomfrey, accompanied by a House Elf named Bitsy, has arrived in my quarters, bearing another one of her incredible calming draughts.  McGonagall explains that Bitsy had come by to do her usual tidy up of my sitting room and bathroom and to make sure the fire was out.  When she heard my sobbing she was worried, and fetched the Headmistress. 

“Thank you Bitsy,” I whisper to the worried looking elf.  She’s twisting one ear in an anxious fashion and looking from me to McGonagall with wide eyes.

“You is welcome Miss Emily,” Bitsy squeaks nervously.  “Bitsy has work to do now Professor,” She adds, looking pleadingly at the Headmistress.

“Of course Bitsy, thank you so much for all your help.”  The house elf is gone in a matter of seconds, disappearing with a loud and familiar sounding crack.  “I think she will be alright now until the morning Poppy,” McGonagall turns towards Madam Pomfrey who is watching me carefully.  “It might be wise if she stays in the comfort of her own bed as there is no physical injury.”

“I think that would be best.  I will come back in the morning to check, but – ” she turns her gaze to me, “ –You should rest tomorrow, no teaching.” 

“Agreed,” McGonagall says and I nod mutely.  “Is the calming draught working?” The Headmistress asks after Madam Pomfrey has left.  Now that the uncontrollable crying has ceased I’m able to sit up in my bed, and McGonagall stands up from her perch on the edge of my mattress.

“I think I could sleep again soon,” I reply wearily.

“Would you like me to leave?”

“Can you stay just a moment longer?” I request, sounding like a small child and feeling rather like one too.  McGonagall nods and summons the winged chair that lives in the corner of my bedroom so that she can sit again.  “I don’t know why this keeps happening,” I say, hugging my knees to my chest.  “But I am trying to do something about it.”

“Oh?” The confusion in McGonagall’s voice is clear.

“I’ve been seeing a healer in the village by the name of Heather Jensen.  She specialises in these sort of…situations,” I hug my knees a bit tighter and stare at the foot of my bed, not able to look McGonagall in the eye.

“How long – ”

“Since just after Christmas, I’ve only been to her twice,” I figure I may as well tell her everything, she’s seen me fall apart completely on two occasions now so it’s hardly a secret anyway.  “I just thought that, well, maybe she might know what to do.”

“I think that’s admirable, Emily,” McGonagall’s voice sounds a little thicker than normal and I glance over at her.  She looks tired and I suddenly feel overwhelmed with guilt that I’ve dragged her out of bed in the middle of the night because of a stupid nightmare.

“I think I’m ready to sleep now,” I say.  “I’m sorry to keep you up.”

McGonagall nods and leaves the room silently, stopping momentarily to briefly touch my shoulder on her way past.  I flick my wand to extinguish the overhead lamps once I hear my office door close but don’t make any move to lie down, not just yet.  I’m tired, dreadfully tired, but I’m afraid to go back to sleep.  The calming draught is keeping the fears at bay, but they’re waiting there, in the shadows, to pounce just as soon as I let my guard down.  The dream wasn’t just a dream; that’s why I’d lost my head.  The forest, the smell, the sounds, the person pursuing me in the semi-darkness; no, that was no creation of my imagination, it was a memory.

I lie on my side and curl up as tightly as I can, squeezing my eyes closed.  Using every ounce of self-control I can muster, I force my mind to go blank, to think of nothing and no-one. 

I’m asleep in seconds.

The sound of quiet voices nearby is what wakes me from my dreamless slumber, quite some time later.  I’m not sure what time it is, but the light streaming into my room tells me that the night has passed.  I yawn and stretch my stiff limbs, realising that I didn’t move from the tight, curled up position all night.  The room is still slightly hazy around me, but through the open door I can see two familiar figures standing just outside my bedroom in my sitting room.  Heather and Madam Pomfrey are in deep discussion, and whilst I can hear the murmur of their voices, the exact words are too soft to make out.

I yawn again and push myself up into a sitting position, rubbing my still slightly blurry eyes.  Glancing at my alarm clock, I’m surprised to discover it’s two o’clock in the afternoon; evidently Madam Pomfrey’s calming draught helps with sleep too.

“Emily, you’re awake,” I look up at Heather’s voice to see her standing on the threshold of my room, Madam Pomfrey has disappeared.  Not having found my vocal chords yet, I simply nod, aware of how odd it feels for Heather to be standing in my bedroom; seeing her outside of her Healer office reminds me of what it felt like to see one of my professors outside of Hogwarts when I was younger.

“May I?” Heather indicates to the chair McGonagall had been sitting in the night before.  I nod again and she summons the arm chair closer to my bed before sitting.  “Professor McGonagall contacted me this morning and explained what had happened.  She thought you might like to talk to me.”

“I’m fine now,” I reply in a gravelly voice, swinging my legs out from under the covers to sit on the side of the bed.  “It was just a….a nightmare.”  I’m not sure why I am suddenly lying to Heather, perhaps it is because I don’t want Heather to think I am moving backwards, although I have a sneaking suspicion that it is also because I don’t like admitting to myself that I am experiencing a setback.  Heather was supposed to be helping me make things better but I don’t seem to be doing so well at that particular goal.

Obviously, Heather doesn’t buy my thinly veiled lie because her lips form a thin, tight line for a moment before she smiles gently at me again.

“We can talk about it more at our next session if you would prefer; you’re probably still very tired and want to prepare for classes tomorrow.  I did want to discuss some potions with you though.  I have given Madam Pomfrey my recommendations for certain calming and sleeping potions that would be appropriate for your situation.  Obviously the decision to use them is completely yours, but given the current circumstances, I thought you might appreciate the option.”  I nod mutely while Heather speaks, although I’m only partially taking in what she says.  Potions?  I’m not sure if I like that idea, doesn’t medicine mean I’m getting worse?  Although, not having to worry about nightmares when I sleep does sound nice, and Heather wouldn’t be prescribing something unless it was safe.  Maybe the potions could help me avoid these setbacks.

“Thank you,” I manage to croak out and Heather stands up.

“I meant it when I said I wanted to help you Emily, and please, don’t feel discouraged about this nightmare or the potions.  The healing process isn’t always a straight line, but we’ll get there in the end,” She briefly touches her hand to my arm as she leaves me and I’m once again alone in my quarters.  With a sigh, I get up and head in to the bathroom for a shower; deciding that I may as well use the rest of the day off to get some work done.

The night sky is clear but the air is freezing as I make my way towards the school boundaries on Friday night for dinner at Michelle and Anthony’s.  I’m running a little late after a full day of classes, a quick shower and the old dilemma of what to wear, so once I’m past the winged boars flanking the gates, I turn on the spot and apparate to the sweet little cottage on the far side of the village.  I’m only five minutes late when I rap my knuckles neatly on the red front door.

“Hey Em,” Anthony greets me as he opens the door, giving me a friendly kiss on the cheek as I step inside.  I stifle back a small giggle at the rather grown-up greeting and remove my cloak which Anthony takes from me before leading me down to the living area at the back of the house.  It looks a lot larger without the crowd of people that filled it on New Year’s Eve, but it is essentially the same space.  Michelle is standing at the wood stove, stirring a pan of sauce; a delicious smell is wafting from the pan and whatever is inside the oven.

“Em!”  She grins at me, placing the large spoon aside and wrapping me up in a hug.  “Nice dress,” She teases as we pull apart.  I’d decided to wear the green dress she’d convinced me to buy at Gladrag’s, teaming it with black tights and ankle-boots.  I’d even bothered to use the hair removal charm and dig out my make-up bag. 

“This old thing?” I tease back, brushing invisible dust off the skirt.

“Drink, Em?” Anthony asks as I move across the room to have another proper look around the kitchen-dining area. 

“Anything but pumpkin punch,” I say and the three of us laugh. 

“How about some elderflower wine?”

“That sounds great…” My voice fades away as I notice something odd.  The wooden dining table is decorated stylishly with white flowers, silver candles and linen napkins; what is confusing though, is that the table is set for four, not three.  “Is someone else – ”  My question is cut off by a new voice shouting from the direction of the front hallway.

“I’m sorry I’m late, I had to wait around for the delivery of my new bar stools, the bloke was supposed to come at three and he didn’t show up until five-thirty!”  Timothy appears in the doorway, dressed in muggle clothes like he had on New Year’s Eve.  He walks over and kisses Michelle on the cheek.  “Hey sis, smells amazing!  Oh thanks,” He accepts the glass of wine that Anthony has just handed him and then turns to me; I feel my heart skip a beat.  “Emily Morgan,” He gives me an amused smile.

“Timothy Briar,” I manage to reply calmly even though I suddenly feel warm.  I’m grateful for the glass of wine Anthony hands me, because it gives me something else to focus on.

“You know Tim, right Em?  I thought I saw you guys talking at our New Year’s party,” Michelle calls over her shoulder to me from the stove.

“Um, yeah,” I reply stupidly.  Timothy continues to give me that amused smile as he moves around the kitchen bench to talk to me.  Anthony, his drink-pouring duties done, makes his way over to help Michelle in the kitchen.

“So, Emily Morgan,” Timothy says to me, “How’s good ol’ Hogwarts going?”

“Same old same old,” I smile.  “How’s the pub?  Obviously you have bar stools, so that’s a good start.”

“I have a bar too.”

“Well you probably need one of those,” I deadpan.  “A couple of drinks to serve might be helpful too.”

“I knew there was something I was missing,” Tim smacks his head comically.  “Do you reckon I’d actually get some customers if I had food and drink available?”

“It may help.”

“Appetisers are up!” Michelle announces as she finishes placing some elaborate looking canapés on a platter.  “I hope they taste ok.”

The dinner is delicious and by the end of the four course feast, I am so full I can barely breathe.  I’m relieved that my dress is made from a stretchy fabric that is forgiving of my over-indulgence.  The company is good too, and conversation flows easily as jokes are told, stories shared and good natured teasing inflicted.  Despite the ever present feelings of awkwardness that never quite go away, I’m amazed to find that my old, sociable self is still there underneath the surface, and she seems to thrive on the company of people my own age.

I find myself struggling throughout the night to not stare openly at Timothy across the table, and he doesn’t help matters by smiling or winking at me every time our eyes meet.  I feel slightly giddy that he’s even noticing me, after spending three years being crazy about him at school; my fifteen year old self is threatening to burst out and start squealing with excitement.

“So you need to know the general direction of the object you’re summoning?” Patricia asks, flipping the pages of her Charms book, but my mind is far from our Charms homework.  “I’m sure Flitwick said that, didn’t he Em…Em?”  Patricia finally looks up from her book and follows my line of sight.  “You’re a hopeless case Emily Morgan,” she says, hitting me on the arm.

“What?” I mutter, scowling at her as I rub my arm.  Three sixth year boys have just walked into the common room and my attention is solely on the boy with the long-ish brown hair, his Hufflepuff tie pulled loose and the top button of his school shirt undone.

“Every time your ‘husband’ walks in to the room, your brain turns to complete mush,” Trish teases.

“Shut up,” I mutter, but I can’t hide my blush.  Timothy and his friends collapse into some armchairs near the door that leads to the girl’s dormitory, laughing about something.

“Em, Charms essay?” Patricia sing-songs, waving her parchment in my face.

“Right, sorry,” I say, turning my focus back to my essay, although it probably takes twice as long to write as it should since I keep glancing up whenever I hear that familiar laugh. 

Eventually, and long after Patricia has finished her homework and headed to the dormitory for a shower, I stretch my arms and yawn before packing my things.  The sixth year boys are still sitting in their armchairs, having taken up a third-person-plays-the-winner wizard’s chess tournament some time ago.  I notice that Timothy is currently the spectator, good-naturedly teasing his friends with fake strategy suggestions.  I try to saunter nonchalantly past them, playing it cool, except I can’t stop myself from sneaking a peek at Timothy out the corner of my eye as I pass.  Because I’m not watching where I’m going, I don’t see the ottoman in my way and my left shin bumps into it, just enough that I trip, my books, parchment, quills and ink crashing to the floor.

“Merlin’s Pants!  Are you alright?” My heart skips a beat at that voice, and when he jumps up and comes over to help pick up my things, I think it may actually just stop working all together.

“I’m fine,” I squeak as he crouches down next to me.  My shin is burning with pain, but I don’t want him to think I’m a baby.  I continue to grab my things, arranging them messily in my arms.

“Gotta watch out for the furniture, it attacks if you’re not on your game,” He jokes, using his wand to repair a broken ink pot and then syphon the ink from the stone floor back into the glass bottle.  I scoop up the last of my quills as he holds out the ink pot and my charms text; our fingers brush as I accept them from him and I feel myself blush.  I get awkwardly to my feet, knowing my cheeks must be bright red.

“Thanks so much,” I mumble, and then turn and disappear down the girl’s corridor, my heart pounding in my chest and my hand tingling where we touched.

“You guys, that meal was amazing,” I compliment after coffee and two nightcaps.  “But I should probably head home, it’s kind of late.”

“We’ve got anti-apparition charms on the house, but you can apparate from the front porch,” Michelle says apologetically as she gives me a goodbye hug.

“Oh, that’s alright, after four glasses of wine and two firewhiskeys, I don’t think I could apparate without splinching myself,” I laugh, feeling decidedly light-headed.  “I’d better walk.”

“Are you sure that’s safe?” Michelle asks. 

“It’s not far,” I nod.  “I do it all the time.”

“I’ll walk you back,” my head snaps towards Timothy, hoping my face doesn’t betray my feelings.  “I should be heading off myself anyway.”  I can only nod my assent and before I know what’s happening, my cloak is over my shoulders and Timothy and I are waving to Michelle and Anthony as we make our way down their garden path.

“Well that was suitably grown up,” Timothy laughs as we wander through the quiet village. 

“My first adult dinner party,” I smile.  “It was pretty good.” 

“I did notice the conspicuous absence of pumpkin punch,” Timothy says.

“Probably for the best,” I laugh.  “Though maybe you should bottle it and sell it at your pub.”

Timothy laughs, “I think I’d prefer my patrons not to be completely sozzled after one drink, might not make much money otherwise.”

“Well if you’re going to be a sell-out…” I tease, trying not to think about how close together we are walking.

“You’ve caught me out; my secret ambition to become the world’s richest wizard through the lucrative industry of independent pub ownership is discovered!” Tim cries dramatically.

“Shhh!” I giggle as we pass Honeyduke’s.  The lights are out in all the various village businesses; even The Three Broomsticks is closed up for the night.  It’s obviously later than I realised.

“Don’t want it getting out that the young, pretty Transfiguration teacher from Hogwarts is sneaking through the village, completely pissed?  I understand Emily, your secret’s safe with me.”

“I’m not pissed,” I insist, punctuating my statement by slipping on a particularly icy piece of road and stumbling forward.  Timothy reaches out and grabs my arm to steady me.

“No…not at all,” the sarcasm in his voice causes us both to giggle like sugar-fuelled children and I find myself wondering if the light-headedness I’m experiencing is because of the wine, the firewhisky or the fact that Timothy’s gloved hand it still holding my arm.

“Your sister is a bad influence,” I say.  “This is the second Friday night she’s invited me out only to get me drunk.”

“Good thing I offered to walk you home then, isn’t it?”

“You know, you didn’t have to walk me home Timothy,” I say, feeling a little self-conscious.

“You can call me Tim,” he nudges me with his shoulder and I can’t stop myself looking up at him, he’s still holding on to my arm and I suddenly feel very warm, considering we’re walking down a snow covered lane.  “And I didn’t offer to walk you home because I thought I had to, I did it because I wanted to walk you home.  I wanted to spend the time with you.”

“Oh,” is the only word my lips seem to be able to form.  We’re past the buildings of the village now, the lights of the street lamps gone, although I notice that there’s more than enough starlight for us to see the way.  Glancing up at the celestial twinkle lights, I am struck with how romantic the whole situation is, and before I can stop myself, an incredulous laugh slips out.

“What’s so funny?” Tim asks, but I can’t seem to stop laughing; suddenly everything seems so ridiculous.  “Why are we laughing?” He asks again, joining in with the laughter himself, but I can only shake my head at him.  I try to suck in air but it causes me to snort, only further fuelling our giggles.  “You are pissed!”

“Maybe just a little,” I gasp through the laughter, nearly stumbling again as my foot meets a concealed tree root.

“I think you are the bad influence Emily Morgan,” Tim says as we round a bend and the gates of Hogwarts come in to view further down the lane.  Disappointment washes over me as the winged boars grow closer and my time with Tim draws to a close.  I slip out of his grasp when we reach the entrance to the school grounds.

“Thanks for walking me home,” I say, pulling my wand out and non-verbally performing the staff unlocking charm on the gates.

“Wait,” Tim reaches out and grabs my wand hand, forcing me to turn and face him.  I look up at him expectantly.

“I…um…” he looks a little sheepish.  “It was really nice to see you again.”

“It was nice to see you too,” I say nervously, wondering where he’s going with all this.

“It’s just that…well I mean…Oh to hell with it!” And suddenly, before I can ask what he means, Tim leans down, puts one hand at the back of my neck and kisses me.  My body reacts before my mind, and by the time my brain has registered what is happening, my own hands have already gripped his shoulders, my lips kissing him back.  It’s not a long kiss, but it’s exciting and the air is charged when we pull apart.

“Thank you,” is all I can think of to say.  Then, biting my bottom lip, I turn and slip through the school gates, locking them behind me.

“Goodnight!” Tim calls and I glance over my shoulder to smile at him before hurrying up to the castle.  I practically skip up to the fourth floor and let myself into my quarters, igniting the lamps with my wand.  I close door from my office behind me and lean against the wood, closing my eyes for a blissful moment as I remember the feeling of Tim’s lips against mine.  I haven’t kissed a boy in such a long time and I’d forgotten how wonderful it could be.

I feel like there is a large balloon in my chest and it’s slowly inflating, making me feel like I could burst and yet at the same time like I could float way.  I can’t remember the last time I felt so good.  I open my eyes again and then, as though the balloon can no longer stay put inside me, I let out an excited squeal and throw myself on to the sofa, letting the old Emily take over for a little while.

AN: Oh, there was a bit of romance in this chapter, wasn't there.  I'm sorry if it was a bit too much, I'm used to writing teenage romance so this was a challenge.  Please review and let me know your thoughts :)

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